Thirty Days On The Front Lines: A return to tech support

In September 1996, I left my desk at IQuest Internet in Indianapolis for the last time. A friend from the MUDs I was on had talked me into talking to her brother, a recruiter at Taos Mountain Software, and two weeks later I had an offer, notice given for my apartment and my job, and the terrifying thought of driving 2300 miles with my possessions in a Ryder truck, my very unhappy cat in the front of the truck, and my Pontiac Grand Prix on a trailer it was too heavy for.

But on the flip side, I was getting out of the Midwest and its glorious winters, escaping a salaried position that ended up being a pay cut, and most importantly, leaving behind end-user tech support. For the next 25 years or so, I did tech support, and infrastructure/architecture/caffeine delivery systems, but for internal colleagues who were generally more aligned with my assigned priorities.

Now, I’ve gone back onto the front lines, supporting end users from around the world in several different languages (thanks to Google Translate or Bing Translate), explaining and troubleshooting and answering questions about cryptocurrency in general, Ethereum and Chia in particular, and specifically how to make them work with one of the more advanced mining pools.

As I told the owner when I started, I’ll scale back or even hand over the reigns altogether when I find something more in line with Silicon Valley expense levels, but for now, it’s an extension of what I’d been doing on Telegram since January, and it’s supplementing my coffers in the process.

I meant to write this last month, when it would have been 30 days, but the conversations get overwhelming and blog posts get distracted-from, so here we are closer to 60 days in reality.

What’s it like working for a mining pool?

From the internal perspective, it’s not much different from my last job, except for the number of employees and our ranking on the Fortune 500. My nearest coworker is over a thousand miles away, and my boss is halfway around the world. So just as I was prepared for the pandemic work-from-home transition (which wasn’t a transition for me), this wasn’t much of a jump. And since all my interactions are in text form, I was able to spend almost a week in Vegas without anyone caring, and as one of the senior guys says, “pants are not mandatory at this job.”

For the external side, it’s a matter of translation in many different senses. I have a pretty substantial following among Persian and Brazilian miners because I take the time to translate when I chat with them. Half of my pre-recorded responses are bilingual in English and Portuguese. And sometimes it seems that our Brazilian miners are the luckiest, finding Ethereum blocks with single GPU rigs more often than anyone else.

Like the ISP job, there’s the translation of technical into English (or Portuguese or whatever). Mining and farming cryptocurrencies is a very technical experience, undertaken often by minimally-technical people (with flashbacks to the mid-90s Internet access transition I supported back then). I hope to get everyone to a subsistence level, and inspire a few to take their potential to a higher level–many miners have learned Linux to enhance their experience, whether it’s HiveOS or higher performance Chia, and one told me recently that he knew more about Linux in about a year than about Windows in 20 years of using it.

Finally, there’s a translation between expectation and reality. For some people and some translations, this just won’t work. Ask the people who read “Use what you have” for Chia this past spring and spent tens of thousands of dollars on gear they didn’t completely understand and couldn’t really afford. They’re pretty sad now because the curve toward break-even on Chia is a much longer one than even current GPU mining, and the credit card bill is due.

But for others, whether it’s setting payout parameters sanely for the market, or deciding whether to spend ten thousand dollars on GPUs when the leading GPU currency is headed for rocky waters for miners, or just figuring out what to mine with what you have, it’s a matching of expectations (i.e. “I heard from a friend” or “I read on the internet” or “this calculator site said I’ll be rich in 2 months”) to reality (i.e. “your friend read a very biased blog” or “not everything on the Internet is true” or “that’s estimated, not guaranteed, and will probably go down as much as it goes up”).

So, a lot of translation, and the goal is for Google, Bing, and I to get it right most of the time. After almost 2000 support requests and countless chat exchanges, I think I do. Google still mixes up “mining” and “digging” and “extracting,” and they seem to think you need a maillot to join a pool… but we’ll work on that.

Why would you get into this again?

There are a couple of strong points for it, as hinted above. For one, it was something I already did on a lesser scale, It was a topic I was both interested in and experienced with, and I had done unofficial and semi-official mining pool support for smaller pools (Anorak.tech, Noobpool) in 2018.

There’s a lot of flexibility in the schedule, so if I want to take a break and smoke a tri-tip, go to a junk shop, take a nap, or work on a server or mining/farming rig, I have that flexibility. There’s also time to work on my backlog of resale gear.

And in a sense, it puts some of my somewhat wearied hardware chops back on the front of the grill. Testing various configurations of Chia and Ethereum gear can benefit my users, and I might get some enhancement and learning out of it as well.

And it is a paying job, so that’s a good thing.

It is a different setting from when I considered going to work for Weird Stuff Warehouse the last time I was laid off. But I’m a different person than I was then, and Weird Stuff is no more.

The customer isn’t always right

There has long been a misconception that “The Customer Is Always Right.” Anyone who’s ever worked in customer service knows this is about as true as “Stop Signs With White Borders Are Optional,” but the trope persists.

On the other hand, the customer *is* usually the reason you’re in business. So it’s not a bad idea to help your customer understand how or why they’re wrong, and how they can change that.

Some customers just aren’t right for your business. A lot may seem like a bad fit at first, but when you apply the translation between expectation and reality I discussed above, they can be kept happy. But if your customer wants something that you are not, insists on features you don’t offer, or wants you to be a carbon copy of a “competitor” despite the imbalance between the two companies, you may have to go Frozen with them, and let it go.

And if you’re talking to a crypto miner with a single 4GB GPU that earns up to $5/week, or a Chia miner with only a 1TB drive to use for plots ever, maybe the entire technology isn’t a good fit just yet. If you’re an enterprise networking company, and your customer just wants some USB cellular modems or WiFi adapters, it probably won’t be worth the journey with them. And if you’re a storage company, and the customer says “but I can get an 8TB drive at Fry’s for $100,” well, given the events of February 2021 and the retail storage complications largely inflicted by Chia this spring and summer, that’s a lost cause all around.

Where do we go from here?

I expect I’ll be in this role for the foreseeable future. I did warn the team that unless they want to match my pay from my last job, I will still look for the right full-scale role, and I’ll help with the transition if that becomes necessary.

Unless I go to work for another mining entity, there won’t be a conflict of interest, but there will be time conflicts. I’d be happy to keep doing this on the side for a while, whether it’s as a transition or part of a changing role and team expansion.

So until the next adventure comes along, I’ll be explaining pool contract addresses and Ethereum gas prices, writing documentation, moderating forums, dispensing snark, and trying to keep my mining and farming operations running efficiently for when the currency prices go back up. Feliz mineração!

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